ANNA — Traveling to an opponent’s gymnasium on senior night hasn’t gotten any easier for Jackson Center coach Kim Metz in her 31 years overseeing the program.
“You can’t stand it and don’t want to do it at all,” Metz said. “Their emotions are high, and they want to protect their court just like everybody else playing on their home court. It’s rough. Senior nights are rough.”
The Tigers had another rough match as a senior night opponent on Tuesday in Anna. But like many times over the last three decades, Jackson Center fought its way to a tough victory.
After losing the second and third games on Tuesday, Jackson Center dominated the fourth and fifth games to earn a 3-2 win and hand the Rockets another heartbreaking SCAL loss.
Like Russia a week before, Jackson Center’s SCAL title hopes looked like they would be taking a hit in a conference game at Anna. And just like Russia, the Tigers amassed a spectacular comeback.
Jackson Center won the first set 25-22 but played stagnantly in the second and third sets, which Anna won 25-18 and 25-20. The Tigers jumped out to a 15-8 lead in the fourth game en route to a 25-17 win and scored the first eight points of the fifth game to jumpstart a 15-9 victory.
“It really focused us considering this game meant a lot with the League on the line with us and Russia,” Jackson Center senior Raquel Kessler said. “It meant a lot that we could come out there with that big of a lead and just keep pushing.”
The victory keeps Jackson Center (16-3) on pace with Russia in the SCAL title race. The Raiders have a 10-1 league record, while the Tigers are 9-1. Anna (13-8) is 7-4 and Fort Loramie is 5-5.
It was the second consecutive Tuesday the Rockets lost a heartbreaker on their home court. Anna lost the last three sets against Russia last Tuesday in a 3-2 defeat.
It didn’t look like Anna have a repeat loss after a strong start against the Tigers. Jackson Center jumped out to an early 6-2 lead in the first game, but the Rockets battled back to tie it 17-17.
Kessler, the reigning SCAL player of the year, combined with Elizabeth Hickey for a block and then had two consecutive kills on hard spikes to give Jackson Center a 24-21 lead.
Though the Rockets lost the first set by three points, they overmatched a tired-looking Jackson Center squad in the second in third sets.
Anna jumped out to a 9-5 lead in the third set and led by at least four points all the way to a 25-18 victory. After the teams traded points early in the third set, the Rockets scored four straight to take a 13-9 lead and led by at least four on their way to a 25-20 win.
“We just could not get anything going there,” Metz said. “Raquel was working her rear end off, but they had our ticket. They were serving very aggressively to us. We were out of system and tried to get back into system. Anna did what they needed to do there, and that’s the type of thing they can do to you. We couldn’t catch a break, there, either. …(Anna) was driving a bulldozer those two games.”
Kessler said being down 2-1 focused the entire squad heading into the fourth game. After taking a 5-4 lead, the Tigers scored three consecutive points (including once ace) with Kessler serving to take a four-point lead.
“She’s a spark plug,” Metz said. “Once she starts to convince her other teammates that they can do just as much and contribute and be a part of everything just as much, we do well. She’s definitely a hard worker and is one of the great seniors I’m blessed with. She tries to move some of our underclassmen forward, and that seems to a be a challenge most days, but I think they’re getting better game by game.”
Anna pulled within 16-14 in the fourth, but Jackson Center scored the next three and pulled away to a 25-17 win.
“We were on the same page,” Kessler said. “After the second and third set, we just really needed to get back on the same page with each other. …(Anna) was all on the same page (in the second and third sets). They were just killing balls left and right.”
After taking a 1-0 lead in the fifth game on an Anna defensive miscue, Kessler had a kill, Hickey had a kill and Hickey and Kessler combined for a block to put Jackson Center up by four. The Tigers then scored the next four points to build an 8-0 lead.
“That completely just blew me away that we were able to tick off that many in a row,” Metz said. “(Anna coach) Kelli (Zumberger) had to burn both of her timeouts pretty early to try to slow us, and I know she didn’t want to do that. But that’s a bonus when it puts the opposing team on their heels and makes them fight back a little more instead of playing relaxed.”
The Rockets pulled within 11-5, but Jackson Center scored the next two to retake momentum. Hickey later finished off the game with a kill on a hard spike.
Kessler had 22 kills, 19 digs, four aces and four blocks on Tuesday. Kate Sosby had 24 digs and two aces while Caroline Frieders had 33 assists, 15 kills, 11 digs and three aces. Hickey had eight kills and Ashley Mullenhour had nine assists.
The Tigers can clinch at least a share of the SCAL title with wins over Botkins this Thursday and Fairlawn next Tuesday. They earned a 3-0 win over both earlier this year.
“You never count anybody out, not in this league,” Metz said. “I don’t care who they are, you don’t count anybody out. So we will play hard.”
Anna senior middle hitter Emma Meyer led the squad with 17 kills while Macy Wiktorowski had 13 and senior outside hitter Sierra Williams had 10. Senior setter Lexi Wells had a team-high 45 assists and 17 digs. Mary Landis and Wiktorowski each had 12 digs. Senior libero Abby Counts and Liz Michael each had 11 digs. Madison Roe had five block assists and Williams had four.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.